MANILA—Senator Cynthia Villar expressed hope on Friday that President Benigno Aquino will sign into law the bill declaring large-scale agricultural smuggling as economic sabotage.
Senate Bill No. 2923, or the Anti Large-Scale Agricultural Smuggling Act, principally sponsored by Villar as chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, has hurdled Congress deliberation and now awaiting the President’s signature.
“For years, we have seen how the snail-paced prosecution of smugglers has hindered our campaign against smugglers. And because the charge is bailable, the wealthy smugglers were not intimidated,” Villar said.
“To ensure food security and stability, a law making agricultural smuggling a non-bailable offense of economic sabotage should be enacted. A mere slap on the wrist will never scare smugglers away,” she added.
The Nacionalista Party senator said while some acts of smuggling are already punishable under the Tariff and Customs Code, a law should be enacted to impose stiffer penalty against large-scale agricultural smuggling.
Under the proposed law, the amount of smuggled agricultural product subject to economic sabotage is equal or more than Php10 million for rice, and equal or more than Php1 million for other agricultural products such as sugar, corn, pork, poultry, garlic, onion, carrots, fish and cruciferous vegetables.
Violators will face a penalty of life imprisonment and a fine of twice the fair value of the smuggled agricultural product and the aggregate amount of the taxes, duties and other charges avoided.
Villar said it has been three years since she presided over the Senate inquiry which exposed alleged big-time smugglers David Bangayan and Leah Cruz but until now, the Department of Justice has not filed formal charges against them.
“Economic saboteurs deserve to be severely punished under this new law. They threaten the livelihood of small and subsistence farmers because the presence of smuggled products unjustly lowers market price, making it almost impossible for locally-produced goods to compete,” she added.
The senator said smuggling is more serious than the pork barrel scam with about 600,000 metric tons of rice smuggled each year and about Php450 billion lost to agricultural smuggling alone.